Editor's Note: Mrs. Obama's op-ed originally appeared in U.S. News and World Report.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many of our nation’s men and women in uniform and their families. I’ve laughed with them at baby showers and graduations. I’ve sat with them at hospital bedsides. I’ve listened to their stories, learned from their experiences, and witnessed the strength of the families of our fallen heroes.
And each time I speak with a veteran or military spouse, I am awed by their strength and resilience. And I am struck by just how much they’re contributing to our communities every single day.
They’re leading the scout troop, taking night classes, running the carpool, and sending off care packages to deployed units overseas—all while shouldering the emotional costs of an empty seat atthe dinner table for months at a time. They have packed up their families and moved to another part of the country— or the world—again and again, so they know how to quickly adapt to new environments and people. And these experiences— the ones they deal with every day—give them the perfect background to manage large-scale projects, find creative solutions to problems, and fight through anything that comes their way.
Yet, even with all of these skills and experiences, veterans and military spouses aren’t always at the top of the list for employers when it comes time to fill an open position. Veterans who have served since 9/11 have a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the country. And too often, a military spouse’s résumé—checkered with different residences and job experiences—is seen as a red flag, rather than a reflection of the variety of skills and experiences that military spouses have to offer.
I believe that we can do better. That's why Dr. Jill Biden and I started an initiative called Joining Forces to recognize, honor, and support our veterans and military families. We’re joining forces with businesses, nonprofit organizations, government, communities, and individuals. We’re focusing on areas like education and wellness—and we’re working to help our troops and their spouses find and keep good jobs.
Already, we’ve seen employers from across the country step up. The Chamber of Commerce has been holding job fairs, including one that connected veterans to some of the nation’s biggest finance firms through the Veterans on Wall Street program. The Department of Defense has worked with the Chamber and 70 private employers to expand career opportunities through the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.
The Society for Human Resource Management has committed to educating its quarter-million HR professionals on the skills offered by military spouses. And companies like Sears and Walmart have committed to major hiring and training initiatives for veterans and military spouses. As I’ve seen again and again, when these companies start hiring veterans and military spouses, they love the results.
“This is not just an act of goodwill, this is an act of good business,” Sears CEO Lou D’Ambrosio said. “The men and women of our military, their spouses, and their families are some of the most gifted, talented employees that we have in the company.”
So this is about more than our sense of duty—it’s about the bottom line, too. Contributing to our economy is just another way that our troops and their families continue to strengthen this country. Whether they’re National Guardsmen and Reservists reintegrating into their communities after a deployment, veterans whose active duty service has ended, or spouses whose loved ones still serve, our men and women in uniform and their families still have so much to offer our country. They’ll just be wearing business attire this time.
So after everything they’ve done to keep our country safe and secure, let’s make sure that they know that this country is looking out for them, too. We all can help. Employers with job openings to fill can commit to hiring goals for military spouses and veterans and ensure that they have every opportunity to compete for positions. Those of us with career experience can engage military family members in our career fields or mentor veterans as they transition to a civilian career. And in our neighborhoods, we can make sure that our community organizations, schools, and faith groups are attuned to the skills and experience of our troops and their families.
Each of us can play a role. So please join us at JoiningForces.gov, and together, we can serve our veterans and military families as well as they’ve served us.